The Wolf of Wall Street ★★★★★

Film #70 of The December Challenge 2013

On Christmas day, my family and I took a break from stuffing our faces with delicious food to watch the most Christmas-y movie ever.
• My aunt's reaction: "I would've liked that movie better without all the sex and drugs."
• My uncle's reaction: speechless.
• My dad's reaction: "Clearly they overdramatized the true story because there's no way it was that crazy in real life."
• My brother's reaction: "It was funny but way too long."
• My mom's reaction: "That was such a good movie!"

This is why my mom is my best friend.

I'm still sad that this three hour movie about greedy idiots spending their fortunes on debauchery and mayhem is over. I woke up this morning sad because I wasn't watching it. My face is sore from how much I had a permanent dumbfounded grin on my face. My throat is sore is from laughing and yelling at my family "how fucking awesome was that!!!" Martin Scorsese has once again explored what the American dream is all about by bringing to the screen the larger than life Jordan Belfort. From what I've heard, the film is actually TAME compared to some of the stuff in Belfort's memoirs. I really want to read it now.

The barrage of images of guys snorting cocaine off various objects and humans, fucking prostitutes, whipping their dicks out in public, and parading naked women and little people around an office space for sport somehow never got repetitive. It's the most elaborate and extravagant dark comedy of the year. Whether the emptiness of the picture was on purpose doesn’t really matter. What matters is that to make this story of depravity and excess cinematic, it has to feel hyper-real and go by in the blink of an eye. Jordan Belfort was an empty man. He subconsciously tried to fill the void with money, sex, and drugs, but even at the height of his wealth he was far from fulfilled. There's never a moment in the film when you experience life from anything but Belfort's perspective so the lack of care given to his victims tells me he felt little remorse. He was just bummed he got caught. He was a bad person and the film doesn't really try to do much to convince you otherwise, even in the slightly less hilarious third act.

I don't think I've seen Leonardo DiCaprio in such a physically demanding role before. The things he does with his body during that scene when he's taken too many quaaludes at a country club made me laugh so hard I cried. He also communicated a lot of complex emotion through his body language. I think the film has lofty ambitions to comment on unfettered greed, but really this is the story of one man's rise and fall and its success depends on a great lead performance. DiCaprio knocked it out of the fucking park. Jonah Hill kind of stole the show, though.

Since Scorsese has been around so long and has developed a signature style, I'm fine with him telling this story in a rather conventional manner. The voiceovers and perfect framing give the picture lots of gloss and an air of importance. It hits all the plot points you'd expect in a rise and fall story, from the charming boss to emulate (hello again Mr. McConaughey), the replacement of the starter wife with the trophy wife, and the rousing speeches showing how talented he was. There's also the fact that he had plenty of opportunities to get out of the game but persisted out of pure greed and a feeling that he was invincible. He even got caught by a slip up so dumb and out of left field he never could've prevented it from happening. What makes up for all of this derivative stuff? THE ENERGY. The amount of energy coming off that screen was head and shoulders above anything I've seen this year.

My only criticism is that the third act, in which we're supposed to witness the downfall the rest of the film is careening toward, is rushed. It's fine that Jordan Belfort didn't really have to face consequences matching the magnitude of suffering his actions inflicted, but there has to be time to let that sink in. If the film had been half an hour longer and the end gave us better insight into the "fall" part of the rise and fall narrative, I think the film could've been said to have a message. Instead, it's just a wickedly fun 3 hours of watching rich idiots do dumb and depraved shit. There's no moral of the story, no real judgment or indictment of his behavior. Should I be worried about the people who will try to emulate Jordan Belfort because his punishment wasn't harsh enough? I'll let that slide for now.

I hope that Martin Scorsese isn't done yet, because I want more. More. More. MORE!!!!

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